RURAL TRANSFORMATION

Spain 2020 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

As the only Spanish public enterprise that belongs to the state, autonomous communities, and provincial councils, Grupo Tragsa's mission is to implement public policies related to rural, environmental, and land sustainability.

Jesús Casas Grande
BIOGRAPHY

Jesús Casas Grande has been the President of Grupo Tragsa since 2018. He received his degree in forestry engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and has been a member of the Forestry Engineering Corps since 1985. Before joining Grupo Tragsa, he was director general of Rural Development and Agri-Foods at the Regional Ministry of Rural Development and Natural Resources of Asturias. Between 2008 and 2012, he was director general of Sustainable Rural Development at the Ministry of Environment, Rural, and Marine Areas. Prior to that, Casas was vice-director general of programs at the Institute for Women and director of the Autonomous Authority for National Parks.

What have been Grupo Tragsa's main achievements since its creation in 1977?
We don't submit tenders and we're not in the market. We don't set our prices; the Spanish government does it for us by means of a cost recovery scheme. We don't earn profits; we only recover the costs of the projects that are entrusted to us. We are, therefore, an extension of the government itself. If you look at the elements that have characterized rural transformation in Spain over the last 40 years, it's easy to find traces of Tragsa's presence. Our mission is to implement public policies related to rural, environmental, and land sustainability. This is how we have been able to occupy a relatively stable position in this field, without impacting the private sector and always limiting ourselves to public service management. At present, we are probably the only Spanish public enterprise that belongs simultaneously to the state, the autonomous communities, and the provincial councils.

Do any of the tenders you submit abroad conflict with the interests of other Spanish companies?
Conceptually, as a government institution, Grupo Tragsa should never compete with other Spanish companies in the international arena. We have actually relinquished this capacity, and it has been ratified by the government. That said, in some cases we do promote or facilitate internationalization by contributing our know-how and experience to the value chain, but only when it's officially requested of us. We've been requested by Spanish companies to collaborate with them in bids outside Spain, but we must be prudent and responsible. To join forces with Tragsa isn't just a question of bearing the Tragsa seal; it's also about bearing the seal of the Kingdom of Spain. This, along with our usual commitment, is an additional responsibility for us. We must not forget that we are spending public money.

Which is your most significant project?
It is difficult to identify one single project out of all the projects that we have undertaken in the past 40 years. The control system for agricultural activity in Spain we are currently developing is one of our technological highlights. It's a system that uses information from observation satellites to display the agricultural activities of farmers who receive European Commission subsidies in real-time. Tragsa's participation in the conversion of almost half of the 3.7 million ha in Spain from dry to irrigated land is another highlight. We help to develop areas with possibilities. We are dedicated to evaluating the needs of rural areas. Spain has a population imbalance; the rural areas are rapidly emptying, and we still haven't been able to come to terms with this. In this scenario, one of our goals is to see to what extent Tragsa can propose measures to mitigate the consequences of this population drain.

Many people think that Spanish public companies have fallen behind when it comes to innovation. Is it true?
At Grupo Tragsa, we conduct a lot of research in areas related to our field, such as the rural environment, rural technology, rural digitalization, and agriculture technology, and more. In 2018 alone, we invested more than EUR3 million in 27 innovation projects. In this regard, I can say that we are at the vanguard of technology and the leaders in this sector. In fact, when somebody wants to make a technological investment in these areas, they consult with us.

What are your goals for the coming years?
The main goal is to assume the responsibility of what we are. This means that we must establish ourselves as the government's agent. Second, it means clearly defining the limits of the company. In 2018, we earned around EUR800 million. We have no expansive plans. We want to be a bigger in-house provider in order to better respond to the needs of the country. Third, we want to keep our activities within the traditional sectors where we are already well known and where there's demand for work. Finally, we would like to maintain this difficult feat of neither making profits nor losses.